We are thrilled to be connecting with Erica Salcuni again. Erica is a Director of Programs & Outreach at Grossmont Healthcare District. Content partners help Voyage in so many ways from spreading the word about the work that we do, supporting our mission and collaborating with us on content like this. Check out our conversation with Erica below.
Hi Erica, thank you so much for sitting down with us again. For folks who might have missed our initial interview, can you start by briefly introducing yourself?
I’m a native New Yorker who has been living in San Diego for 11 years, and whether I am working or playing, storytelling is a big part of who I am. I love to travel when I can, and I’ve been all over the U.S. and to parts of Europe, Asia, and Central America. I spend a lot of time thinking about what people have in common. For example, we all need to eat. We all have a community, even if that community is online. We all have a health story too. Our ability to reach our potential has so much to do with our health.
For the last couple of years, I’ve worked as the communications director at the Grossmont Healthcare District (which we sometimes call GHD for short), where we strive to make East San Diego County one of those places where people can access the health care they need, and ultimately live their best lives.
When it comes to health in East County, what makes it unique in comparison to other parts of San Diego?
Unless you are spending time every day in East San Diego County, you may not realize how diverse it is both geographically and demographically. At the western edges of the 750-square mile healthcare district service area, you have famous institutions, like San Diego State University. The eastern boundaries are marked by the vastness of the rural Mountain Empire — communities such as Pine Valley and Campo, where people and services alike are so sparse that fire departments double as emergency medical providers. As you drive through the middle of the service region, you are in our cities, such as El Cajon, home to one of the largest refugee resettlements in the state. Just a few miles to the north, there are rodeo grounds in Lakeside.
At the Grossmont Healthcare District, we work with our partners at Sharp HealthCare to map out these communities, which we serve together through hospital operations. These maps show that there are higher discharge rates in certain communities for chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular health, diabetes, and behavioral health. This type of mapping has strongly suggested the connection between rates of chronic disease, the access East County residents have to healthcare, and the social needs that may prevent them from being able to maintain, much less thrive. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has simply put a magnifying glass on health needs that were already here. In the last year, we have heard a lot of buzz around the term health equity; understanding these deep and unevenly distributed pockets of need is an important start for addressing these issues.
What is on the horizon for your organization that support people who need resources most?
As we head into summer, things are going to feel more “normal” again, and at the Grossmont Healthcare District we have been focused on how we can reach out to our different communities to share ways they can get back to their lives post-pandemic. There are a lot of different fears surrounding vaccines and frustrations surrounding public health mandates that were meant to slow the spread of the virus. Through our partnerships with local school districts, community clinics, and other nonprofit healthcare providers and community-based organizations, our main goal over the next year is to meet our diverse communities where they are to connect them to screenings, services, and education about free or low-cost resources. We operate a public library in La Mesa focused on providing free consumer health information and education on a broad array of topics such as healthy aging, nutritious meals, mental health and substance abuse services, and consumer health information about a bottomless array of topics related to wellness and specific diseases and conditions. The library’s digital collection and curbside pickup options have been available all year while it was closed during the pandemic; now, it is officially open back up to the public Monday-Saturday!
How do you suggest involving future generations in caring about their health?
Giving them a voice about being the change they want to see. The future belongs to those that will be living in it- it’s important to cultivate an environment where their health thrives in the way they see it able to. At the District, we try to do that in several ways. During the pandemic, we launched ‘Discover Your Health Career This Year,’ a virtual workshop to continue advancing the local healthcare workforce post-pandemic. Every year, we also remove financial barriers to education with several healthcare scholarships available, including for nursing, health tech, behavioral health, and even for high school students. We also support workforce development through the Health Career Pathways program, an initiative that prepares local high school students for healthcare careers with field trips, guest speakers, and medical training across a variety of disciplines. This program runs at 9 high schools within our healthcare district, including out in the rural areas. I think it’s important to consider that these activities do not just help us build a robust future workforce. Deeper than that, sharing the youth voice gives these local students the experience to mentor and inspire younger kids and advances the cycle of passing down knowledge.
Thank you so much again for sharing all of this with us. Before we go, can you share with our readers how they can connect with you, learn more or show support?
GHD is a public agency that supports health related services and programs in East County through grants and sponsorships to local health nonprofits, scholarships to local health students, and community events that connect East County to preventative services, such as Kids Care Fest, an annual family health event.
Our grants application cycle opens this July: https://www.grossmonthealthcare.org/community/grants-sponsorships/
Our scholarships to local health students opens in December: https://www.grossmonthealthcare.org/community/scholarship-programs/
We also have a public library devoted just to health information so consumers can access support for whatever questions they have about wellness, recent diagnoses, how to search for health info online, etc: https://www.herricklibrary.org/